"no excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness." Van Gogh had more than his share of madness, and it appears to correlate with the time of his greatest excellence. It makes me wonder, i
This blog will share experiences and opinions about entrepreneurship, investing, philanthropy, international development, sustainability, teaching, innovation, design or whatever I feel like (it is my blog, afterall). If you want more, follow me on twitter @BOPreneur. BOP refers to the Base of the Pyramid (aka, poor people).
Just finishing up Little Bets by Peter Sims. An easy to read, up to date summary of thinking on the creative side of innovation, and one that would go well with "Where Good Ideas Come From," "Medici Effect" and "Steal Like an Artist". It will be the last book I read in 2012. Thanks, Peter!
Other favorites from recent months:
-Startup Communities by Brad Feld- maybe it is pride in the Colorado roots of this book, but I think this should be required reading for entrepreneurs (as well as any politician or government official who wants to talk about "job creation"). Startups are such an important, but misunderstood part of the economy. Why should entrepreneurs read it? To understand how important the ecosystem/community is, and how important it is for them to give back/pay forward to that community.* For BOPreneurs? While not Brad's focus, I think there are some great foundations laid here. For instance, the work of Village Capital, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, Echoing Green and The Hub are encouraging similar approaches to building startup communities, albeit not always with a geographic focus.**
-The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Communities by Stephen Marglin. You know how some books just take your world view and shake it in a way that it doesn't ever get back to the way it was? Well, for me, this was one of them. We will see how it stands my test of time, but for now, it goes up on that top shelf of books, which include Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Friedrich Hayek, Hawken & Lovins(s), Hernando deSoto, William Easterly and Peter Singer (umm, yes, I do live with some internal intellectual tension).*** This book attacks many of the precepts upon which our modern economy is based. Rather than asking how do we make markets work better, he instead asserts the limits of markets. When should humans prioritize markets, and when should we prioritize community? If you are open to the idea that "the foundational assumptions of economics are cultural myths rather than universal truths" I'd encourage you to look at this book. For entrepreneurs, I think that, as with many unpopular perspectives, this book provides a multitude of new ways to solve problems (aka, "opportunities"), and new tools beyond the popular "market based" approaches.****
What does 2013 hold? Well, my next package from Amazon contains: 1) Marjorie Kelly's "Owning our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution"; 2) Michael Shuman's "Local Dollars, Local Sense" and 3) Nassim Nicolas Taleb's "Antifragile- Things That Gain From Disorder." Looks like time for some more "intersectional reading."
*The day after I posted this, Brad posted this 2013 advice for entrepreneurs: "Give Before You Get."
**Note: In my work at Bohemian Foundation, we fund some of these organizations, or organizations affiliated with these organizations.
*** Challenging ideas can be pernicious, burrowing pests at times. Your established view is like an immune system, and can fend off the weak ones in time. But some just grab hold and make you itch for a while. Then they become part of your ideabiome (metaphorically speaking).
****Just to be clear, I am still a fan of market based approaches, in many instances. It is my "go to" bias. But so much of my work is in areas where markets have, at least until now, failed. As my colleague Tom Dean has written, market failure can be a rich vein of entrepreneurial opportunity. And there are many good examples of social entrepreneurs who have used market approaches to solve market failures. Perhaps an example is illustrative of the quandary: which enterprise will have a bigger impact in bringing clean water to more people who need it- Spring Health (started by my friend Paul Polak) or Water For People (run by my friend Ned Breslin)? This is a hard question, with no easy answers (and it was my students' final exam question this past semester!). Spring Health has a purer, market based approach. Water for People uses markets, but it also uses other community development tools, because it believes that market based approaches will only reach 85% of the people in a community, and their goal is to reach everyone, forever. The untouchables, AIDS orphans and others won't all get water. Spring Health acknowledges the issue by providing water delivery, at a higher cost, to the untouchables. Both are admirable ventures, yet they raise the issue of whether a business model should be based primarily on market forces, or whether other approaches may also be needed to address these challenges. Perhaps it depends on the community's view of whether water a right or a commodity? Because we wouldn't just use markets to provide rights, right?
Part of approaching startups as experiments is that there is the potential for failure.
It's become a meme: fail early, fail often, write a failure resume.
I'm OK with failure, unless it's a failure of imagination or effort.
Well, for the fourth year in the row, I am going to share our year end charitable donations, as well as some of the reasoning behind them. I know that this is often viewed as "nobody's business"... my reason for sharing is to encourage others to give. Not necessarily to the organizations that I support, but in an intentional and researched way.
Last year, we started a family fund with the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado, so we now use that for the bulk of our donations. All five members of our family are involved in choosing and researching organizations they would like to support, so our donations reflect some common values around what is important, as well as more specific individual interests.
Before diving in, I would like to highlight several resources that people serious about intentional philanthropy should consider. You are not alone, and if you are want to explore why you should give, or how to do it effectively, there are some good resources.
-The Life You Can Save, both a book and a website from Peter Singer that will challenge you to become an active donor.
-Big Bang Philanthropy- identifying and supporting high impact organizations around the world that are implementing solutions that reduce poverty.
-Givewell. Started by several people who wanted to make sure their donations really made a difference.
-Half the Sky Movement. Nicolas Kristoff & Sheryl WuDunn's site for organizations reducing oppression of women and girls.
-Charity Navigator. Ranks charities on financial health and accountability.
-Global Giving. A community of funders working on a number of projects around the world.
-Innovations for Poverty Action. Has started a fund targeting the most effective interventions against poverty.
-Social Impact Exchange. 100 effective non-profits based in USA.
OK, enough of resource links. Let's cover what our family supported this year. As in past years, we organize our giving into five areas.
1) Environment- because we can't live without it (~20% of our donations in 2012)
-The Nature Conservancy-protecting ecologically important lands and waters worldwide.
-Trust for Public Land- conserving land for public use in USA.
-IdeaWild (C)- small grants with a big impact on biodiversity.
-Trees Water People (C)*- community based sustainable development, focused on reforestation and ecological restoration.
-350.org*- global grassroots climate activism.
2) Health- because health is the cornerstone of development; it's hard to work or go to school if you are sick. (~20%)
-Doctors Without Borders- emergency medical aid, in 70 countries.
-Vision Spring- affordable eyeglasses in Central America and India
-Mothers2Mothers*- reducing mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Africa
-Against Malaria Foundation*- efficient distribution of mosquito bed nets.
3) Social/International Development- Admittedly, a catch-all category. But basically for organizations that are working on innovative, primarily private sector approaches. (~15%)
-One Acre Fund- making small farmers in Africa more prosperous.
-iDE (C)- creating income and livelihoods for poor rural households in several countries; small scale irrigation technologies.
-Nepal Youth Foundation- helping disadvantaged youth in Nepal.
-Women for Women International*- supporting women in post conflict areas.
-The Mission Continues*- fellowships for returning veterans to use their leadership to make an impact at home.
4) Education- We are fans. Much positive change comes from education. (~12%)
-Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship- entrepreneurship for disadvantaged kids in USA
-Engineers Without Borders (C)- water and energy projects in developing world through partnerships with engineering schools
-Akili Dada- scholarships for talented secondary school girls in Kenya
-Book Trust (C)*- improving literacy and book access for disadvantaged kids in USA
5) Local Community (all are Colorado based)- there are many needs in our own communities. (~33%)
-Food Bank of Larimer County
-KUNC Public Radio
-SAME Cafe- great non-profit restaurant in Denver
-United Way of Larimer County
-Slow Money Soil Trust*- community finance and agriculture; bringing money back down to earth.
-Food Family Farming Foundation- healthy school lunches
-Intercambio*- language and cultural training for immigrants to Colorado
-Growing Gardens Boulder
-Alzheimer's Association of Colorado
-SAINT (Senior Alternatives in Transportation)- helping seniors who can't drive
(C) means Colorado based
* indicates this is our first year supporting this organization.
So I have had this idea for a while that it might be interesting to start getting other people involved in this blog. First, I have had some great guest posts from folks like Carl and Teju. But I also wanted to try something I called a "diablog"... a mashup of a blog and a dialog. Kevin Starr and I were emailing back and forth about my recent post on Small Batches, and I asked him if he minded if I used it as an MVP of a diablog. One of the many great things about Kevin is his willingness to play guinea pig, so here goes. I kept editing of the email thread to a minimum... rather than add links to the thread, you can find links to the organizations Kevin mentions here. Let me know what you think... who/what else would you like me to probe or provoke with this format?
Happy holidays, Paul
All labs should be "crafty and quick." That doesn't mean that organizations should stay small, just that they should continually improve their model and operations via that part of the organization designed to "fail fast" and obsessively iterate.